Recently Belgium and the world were shocked to learn that five people lost their live when a fierce storm slammed the Pukkelpop summer music festival.
Briefly after the event, about two hundred thousand parents and friends were nervously trying to contact their beloved ones at the festival, to find out if they were OK. The people at the festival and their family at home continuously retrying to make a connection or send a text message, caused the cellphone and text messaging (SMS) networks to fail miserably, notwithstanding the proactively increased capacity for the festival.
This problem is related to the one computer scientists call the Thundering Herd Problem.
Using Rogerthat Messenger a much more efficient communication protocol can be built, putting less load on the mobile networks.
Rogerthat Messenger is a communication tool optimized for efficient and reliable communication. Some useful features are:
- The sender of a message knows when and if a message has been delivered to the phone of a recipient.
- A recipient can reply unambiguously to a message by pressing one single button.
- Messages are put in a queue and then processed. There is never any need to retry sending the same message twice.
- Messages can be sent and received by software services which can keep track of who is unreachable, who did not yet answer, who is OK, and can even find out the location of the phone.
- The sound and vibration level of a received message can be controlled such that important messages quickly get attention.
Users have to subscribe upfront to the Emergency Contact Service. They need to supply a set of phone numbers or email addresses of people to contact in case of an emergency. For example their parents, their wife, …
Users must install the Rogerthat Messenger app on their phone. Soon all major phone types will be supported. Currently Rogerthat Messenger is available for:
Of course using Rogerthat Messenger and the Emergency Contact Service is free of charge.
In case of an emergency the following communication flow will happen:
- Government informs ECS (Emergency Contact Service) that a problem happens at a certain location e.g. a storm at a festival, panic at a sports game, …
- ECS detects who is located at or close to the emergency, who has bought tickets (e.g. list provided by organizer), who has checked in to the festival (e.g. social media).
- ECS sends a message to those people (see screenshot). Messages are sent in batches and throttled such that mobile networks do not get overloaded.
- ECS knows which messages make it to the a phone, and which do not. This is important. We want to distinguish a broken phone or a flat battery from a nonresponsive person.
- ECS automatically sends update messages (or emails) to the emergency contact list of a user. ECS also informs the government about all updates.
- When a user pushes a response button, this is logged by the ECS and immediately forwarded to the government and to the emergency contact list of the user.
Compare this to what happened in reality during this disaster:
- Ten thousands of people at the festival ferociously sending text messages to a large number (not one) of contacts, continuously retrying.
- People at the festival and at home continuously trying to connect using a phone call.
- All communication attempts happening at the same time.
It is clear that the communication through Rogerthat and the Emergency Contact Service decimates the network load, is much more reliable and efficient, and allows government and 911 services to stay informed in a consistent and reliable manner.
Obviously more advanced workflows are possible where people confirm that their friends are OK, or state that they do not know where their friends are.
A necessary step in reducing the load on the mobile networks, is establishing a change in attitude. It is required to convince people that in a large scale disaster it makes no sense to have several hundred thousand people all try to make a phone call or send a text message at the same time, vigorously retrying until they get a connection.
Instead people must trust that “The Emergency Contact Service will get in touch with you”, both for the people at the disaster site, and the concerned family and friends waiting for news. This will decimate the network load, and the critical status information will flow through much faster. Obviously there should be privileged government and 911 services which have full priority on the phone and text messaging networks.